Intelligence forces concerned about Bradstone Challenger's potential use as a weapon

A report in IBI News yesterday revealed that the Iranian navy has bought Bradstone Challenger, the powerboat that set the Round Britain and Ireland record with a time of 27 hours 10 minutes in 2005. Having seen the tactics employed by Sea Shepherd’s record breaking trimaran Ady Gil against whalers in the Southern Ocean, the powerboat’s potential for use as a weapon against NATO forces in the Persian Gulf is clear.

Western intelligence sources told The Financial Times that the boat could either be used to clone identical high performance powerboats, or filled with explosives and used in a suicide attack against larger vessels like US aircraft carriers.

Iran acquired the 51ft powerboat, which broke the Round Britain record with an average speed of 82 mph, last year. The boat was built in the US, with a high-tech hull designed to run in rough water at high speeds.

Government officials in both Washington and London tried to block the sale of the boat to Iran through a South African broker. US Special Forces were ready to seize an Iranian freighter last year as it carried the boat to Iran, but the operation was called off.

The US government had earlier issued an emergency order banning the sale. Iran’s ‘navy has been involved in enhancing its asymmetric naval warfare capabilities [which] include exploiting enemy vulnerabilities through the use of ‘swarming’ tactics by well-armed small boats and fast-attack craft,’ read the order, issued on the day of Barack Obama’s inauguration.

Iran’s Revolutionary Guards have 1,000 small, fast patrol boats. These boats were used to attack Iraqi and Kuwaiti tankers in the 1980s and 1990s. Groups of fast launches have also engaged in ‘swarm attacks’ on US warships in the Gulf since the beginning of the Iraq war.

US Naval officials are concerned that the Bradstone Challenger might be used in a USS Cole-style attack, in which a small boat loaded with explosives rammed into the naval vessel in Yemen in 2000.
But some experts think the sale of the Bradstone Challenger poses minimal security problems. ‘Surprise aside (à la the USS Cole), the small boat ‘record’ since World War II fails to live up to modern-day hype,’ Craig Hooper, a San Francisco-based national security strategist, wrote in his blog after news of the Challenger acquisition broke. ‘Certainly, small boats are not things to ignore, but I have serious doubts about the risk a small boat swarm poses to a prepared US warship.’But the US government still sees the Challenger as a plausible threat, saying it has ‘a significant concern that the vessel will be utilised by [Iran] as a fast attack craft.’

Photo: Lorne Campbell Design